An Exotic Thief

Her dress is woven from the nacreous shavings of oysters that lie skinned and dying on distant shores.  All the colors from their interiors – the iridescent and curling skies – now covered her poised and snobbish body.  But her dress still moved and rippled in rebellious currents that called back to the raided ocean.

One arm, softened by society's atrophy, is extended like a fragile decoration, her elbow a tiny dimple winking from the pale and watery flash.  But in her other hand she holds a Japanese fan.  Lacquered and enameled with Eastern symbols, it is the color of poppies and carries the scent of opium.  She will rest its folds beneath her eyes and look down on the frozen kabuki dancers and the kneeling geishas.  She carries the delicate calligraphy with her and lets it speak for her.

A single feather is wrapped around her forehead and sweeps upward; a plum-colored pinion that mimics its breezy and deceased flight as she nods and tilts her head.  She swathes herself in the finest that other creatures have to offer, creating a strange, foreign silhouette.

When she was a little girl, she used to stare in horror at the maid's bleeding fingernails as she pulled at the laces of her mother's corset.  The harness crossed her waist like an iron cat's cradle.  She wondered when she would become a lady too, and feel the whalebone carving her future into her skin.

But she was an adult now, and she had her saviors – Poiret, Pacquin, Doucet – artists who had freed her from such reminine aggravations.  And miles below the sea, the whales were musicians, and luxuriated in the ribs that pounded like drums against their skin.

Soft and dangerous, she is a coiled animal reclining in a seraglio the color of spices – cayenne, sumac, mustard, curry.  She has her diverse freedoms, yet she still feels the tug of the leash.  She has stolen, and she will be punished.  She wears her exotic persona like a painted skin, and she will be smothered by a perfumed glove.

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10 responses to “An Exotic Thief

  1. ..she is a coiled animal reclining in a seraglio the color of spices – cayenne, sumac, mustard, curry.Oh, Aubrey.

  2. I like your description of the woman's arm. I was particularly taken by her arm the first time I saw this painting. It's a fine arm–and not too softened–but there's something off about it. I've stared at it quite a lot and still can't figure it out.

  3. It's a very awkward position. Must have been painful to hold it while she was sitting for the portrait. The elbow and shoulder strain, the web of her thumb — all just a little off.

  4. Purplesque – hee!
    M—–l – foreshortening without the benefit of shadow; relying only on draughtmanship – it might have let him down a little bit.
    LT – did the artist mean, I wonder, to make her hand seem claw-like – and painful?

  5. Yow!
    I read that arm with the lifted elbow of certain dance styles (with the fan, I particularly read flamenco).

  6. Iron cat's cradle, wonderful. The animal spirits do play such a special part in your writings (I, of course, approve) 😉

  7. she will be smothered by a perfumed glove.

  8. The elbow reminds me of Dorothy Parker's review of Margot Asquith's memoirs: she didn't show the reader the famous people she met, just the elbow she rubbed with them.This book review made me think of you–tame cheetahs walked on leashes!

  9. Ha! Mother drew my attention to that very book not a few weeks ago. I've seen her dark eyes before, and am seriously considering buying her story.

  10. This is a dangerous combination – beauty, fragility, and spices.

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